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The following was written by Sayed Mukhtar Homam and has been reproduced with the permission of the
Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC)

Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
P.O. Box 993, UPO
Peshawar, Pakistan
Tel: ++ 92 (0)91 43717
Fax: ++ 92 (0)91 840517

 The Tajikistan Update 




SURVEY DATE : 25/8/94 TO 10/9/94


1. Purpose : NAC has been working in most parts of Badakhshan and has worked on many education, communication, irrigation, and other physical infrastructure projects. To maintain a balance of activities among different parts of the province it was deemed important to have some projects in the eastern districts of Badakhshan.

Some preliminary information was necessary to plan future activities. Therefore, this baseline survey was conducted to gather information from the Zeebak, Eshkashem, and Sheghnan districts.

2. Methodology: Information was collected by going to each village and talking to the people. The people usually introduced their representatives and some elders to talk on their behalf and describe their problems. After talking with the people and listening to their problems, the places which needed technical or other sort of assistance were visited. Most of the information about the physical infrastructures and agriculture matters was noted on the site.


1. Location: The Zeebak, Eshkashem, and Sheghnan Districts lie in the eastern part of the Badakhshan Province, approximately 100km, 124km, and 100 km, respectively, from Faizabad, the provincial capital.

The three districts are comprised of about 70 villages spread over an area of approximately 7,080

2. Population: The total population of these districts is about 35,500 people (10,000 Eshkashem, 5,500 Zeebak, 20,000 Sheghnan). There are two major ethnic groups in this region. The people in the upper part of Zeebak call themselves Tajiks, who have a local language called Sangleechee. These people are living in the villages from Sangleech up to Dasht-e-Robat. From Dasht-e-Robat, which is in the middle of Zeebak, up to the border of Eshkashem and Sheghnan the areas is inhabited by Persian speaking Tajiks. The people of Sheghnan are all Sheghnee speaking, who also call themselves Tajiks.

All of the original people of these districts are Ismailee Shiite, except for a Jafaree Shiite Village in the center of Sheghnan. There are some other groups of people living in Eshkashem who were given land by the government. The influential people in this area have been the Ismailee Padshas (Royal), who are still respected by their people, but powerful Sunnite Commanders control the area.

3. Communication: The main motorable road comes from Baharistan (Baharak) to the center of Zeebak. There, the road goes Northeast to Eshkashem and Wakhan and Southwest to Chitral, in northwestern Pakistan. The road to Pakistan is in very bad condition. In some places it gets blocked and destroyed by hill slides. The road bed is also not in good condition.

The Zeebak-Eshkashem Road is not very bad except for a bit of marshy land at lower part of the Wijling Valley. It passes through a river bed for about 6km, but it is not a major problem unless the water is very high. In some parts it needs culverts and causeways. WFP has done some work on this road and it seems they have plans to cut a road along the hillside which would be safe from river water, but the work has not been completed yet.

The track between Eshkashem and Sheghnan is not motorable, however part of the track from Eshkashem center to a village called Zeech, in Eshkashem district, was worked on during the tenure of President Daud. Now, that part of the track can be used by pedestrians and animals. Some sections along this path are very difficult to pass through, even, if one does not have any luggage and it is summer time. In winter there is a high possibility of losing ones life while passing through these sections. Yet the people of Darwaz and Sheghnan still use these paths to communicate. It has occurred with high frequency that the people lost animals and possessions that fall from high cliffs into the deep Panj River.

There is another highly used track to Sheghnan coming from Baharestan. This is about 90 to 100km long. It has been worked on by Afghanaid and now it is motorable to some distance. This motorable section starts from the Faizabad-Baharestan Road and extends up to the top of the pass at the end part of Shiwa. About 20 km of the road which is not motorable was planned by Afghanaid to be worked on in late 1994. This road can be used only half of the year when there is not snow on the pass. The rest of the time the people have to use the Sheghnan-Eshkashem Road.

4. Agriculture: The agricultural situation is miserable in this region. The amount of land and cold weather in these marginal and mountainous areas has given the people very limited chance to produce enough food to sustain themselves. The only place which has good production, a little of which can be exported to other parts of the district, is the center of Eshkashm where there is some land that is used to cultivate wheat.

Because of a very short growing season the people do not have many dietary alternatives. Green beans, gray beans, broad beans, barley, wheat, and potato are the primary agriculture products. Little wheat is produced because of weather and potatoes are not very common. Some of the food produced is not suitable for human consumption, but cold winter, zero budget, and blocked routs have not given them any other choice. As they say, if one eats the bread made out of gray beans (Patuk), when it is warm, or greasy, or one sleeps in a warm place after eating it, he/she become permanently paralyzed.

In the last three years the crops have suffered many kinds of pests. The agricultural production has been so low that the people who had some live stock had to sell most of it. Some of those who didn’t have any thing to sell for food left the area and some are planning to leave for Pakistan, Takhar, or Kunduz before winter arrives.

The irrigation systems are not any good either. Many channels are damaged several time a year. Sometimes they are destroyed at the time of land irrigation. By the time the channels are rebuilt, most of the crops die because of water shortage. Each village has its own irrigation problems which are described in Annex 1.

5. Education Infrastructure: There are schools in every four or five villages. The buildings mostly were constructed by the people themselves. Recently Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) and Pamir Reconstruction Bureau (PRB) has constructed two schools in the Zeebak District. In Eshkashem there are two high schools, one for girls and one for boys, constructed by the government. In Sheghnan there are about eight schools in the district and about half of them were built by the government. There are many other schools that do not have any buildings or that have only ramshackle old buildings constructed by the people. The schools in each village are described in detail in Annex 1.

6. Health facilities: There are no governmental health facilities of high quality. Zeebak has a clinic which has a big building that is neither complete nor in good condition. There is one clinic in Eshkashem and one in Sheghnan. In Sheghnan the Islamic Government has started to construct a hospital as well. Now, the incomplete hospital building is used by UNDCP as a treatment hospital for addicts.

7. Opium: Zeebak, Eshkashem, and Sheghnan have been famous for their many opium addicts. However, there is not a significant opium production in these districts. Very few people know how to cultivate poppy and produce opium. Instead, addicts buy opium from other areas of Badakhshan, where there are many expert opium traders who do not have any addicts in their own villages.

In every village 10-50% of the total population are addicts. The addicts range from children as young as the age of one to the elderly. Some of them have become addicts in childhood, when their parents gave them opium to alleviate sickness. Some have become addicts when they came into contact with other addicts. Some people say they first started when they were sick and couldn’t find any medicine. However, the young generation are not very much inclined to follow their elders, still the environment has its affect. A teacher from one Eshkashem villages reasons, "When people get sick there is not medicine to give them, so what they have got is opium, which is given to the patient. As it cures the pain and they feel recovered, they use it whenever they get sick. A few times use can make them permanent addicts. In a family with addict parents it is obvious that the children will follow their parents. When they get aware of the damages that opium has, it is too late to quit the habit."

An addict who has almost zero income, spends about Afs. 8000 for one Tolee (12 gr.) of opium, which is enough for one day and at most two days. There are many addicts who are ready to stop their habits once they are treated. Almost all of the addicts were treated by Sayed Monsoor Naderee’s medical teams four years ago. However, after the collapse of Dr. Najeeb’s government, when the restriction on poppy cultivation ended, the price of opium decreased to Afs. 2000 per Tolee. As a result many of the addicts who received successful treatment restarted their old habits.

Work Season: Beginning of May to the end of October is the season for agricultural work and from June to mid of October is used for construction work.


1. Background: Zeebak, a poor district, is located in Southeastern Badakhshan and borders Chitral District of Pakistan. The road connecting Faizabad, the provincial capital, to Chitral passes through this district. Even though the road is blocked from middle of Fall to middle of Spring, it is a very vital path for Northeastern Afghanistan during summer when there are problems on the road to Kabul. Most of the traders used this path for import and export. Pakistan had planed to establish connections to Central Asia through this road, which has been survey by Pakistani Engineers, according to the people of Zeebak.

2. Villages: Zeebak has 21 villages which are, Sangleech, Eskatul, Takeea, Farooq, Flakhmadi, Dasht-e-Robat, Kolalan, Degul, Gulkhana, Zeebak, Kholkhan, Nowabad, Shenguk, Kazdan, Dahstikhan, Dand, Raid Khord, Zarkhan, Razrock, Gharaid, and Wairz. Some of these villages consist of smaller villages. Most of these villages have been visited and additional information about them can be found in Annex 1.


1. Background: Eshkashem, sharing a common border with Tajikistan, is one of the poorest and most distant villages in Badakhshan yet it has more agricultural land than Zeebak and Sheghnan. In the last three years Eshkashem has suffered the same fate as other parts of the province. An overwhelming wave of agricultural diseases has resulted in no satisfactory product even to feed the people of Eshkashem in the last three years, let alone the people in other districts used to buy wheat from Eshkashem. In the governmental organizations the people have not been paid for about a year. Eshkashem has about 35 villages some of which have been visited and the information obtained is presented in the Annex. The following are the villages of Eshkashem.

2. Villages: Sukhdara, Bazgeer, Khushpak, Rood Shual, Neechem, Gaundara, Gelysuk, Khushpak-e-Eshkashem, Ashtruk, Cheshkhan, Skamool, Kangorak, Kundkad, Qazdeh, Zargaran, Sayad, Darwand, Bazar, Bahar, Seekhch, Bashend, Khermanee, Osas, Terbad, Aingardeh, Reewareech, Sarjangal, Yakhdorok, Zeech, Walazh, Ashdew, Andazh, Gharan. There are about 1100 houses in all of the district. Most of the villages are located around the center of the district where an abundance of the agricultural land is available. There is a great deal of governmental land in Eshkashem.


1. Background: Sheghnan, a district located in eastern Badakhshan, contains a very limited amount of land and suffers from poverty. It lies on the west of border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It is surrounded by high mountains and river. The valley, where all of the Sheghnan villages lie, extends form North to South. The weather in Sheghnan is cold.

There are many educated people in the district. Local residents boost that the population is more than 80% literate, but most people are high school graduates and few have received higher education. The reason that there are many educated people and schools seems to be shortage of land. Most people are unemployed and go to school in order to start a career. As most of the graduates became teachers, many more became interested to school. That has caused the number of schools to increase. There are eight high schools and many elementary schools in the district.

Now, when there is no salary there are very poor living conditions. Many do not receive adequate diets and as a result go hungry. The food that is eaten throughout the year is mulberry. The number of the people in the village has increased, but the amount of production has not result in prosperity.

The only place in the district that has some land is Weir Village. The other villages have a very limited amount land. They have small orchards of apricot and mulberry from which they can earn an income and grow food for the winter. People outside of the district come to Sheghnan to buy dry fruit.

2. Villages: There are about 14 villages in the district some of which consist of small villages. The following are the main villages of the district.

Darmarakht, Jawgantrashan, Wier, Arjween, Bashoor, Dehmorghan, Sarcheshma, Dehshahr, Sheduzh, Chasnood-e-Bala, Robat, Chasnood-e-Payan, Shaikheen, Cawaid, and Pegeer.

F. Summary

Zeebak, Eshkashem, and Sheghnan, located in eastern of Badakhshan, are three poor and remote districts. The inhabitants are of the Ishmailee Shiite sect and live on the hill sides of the marginal valleys. The area is controlled by Mujahideen Commanders who have specific regions under their control.

There is only one motorable road in this area and that extends from Wakhan to Sangleech and then to Pakistan. The road is intercepted by a motorable road from Baharak.

The shortage of land and early snow fall has not given the people the chance to produce more. The crops suffer from pestilence and the people must grow crops that are harvested early and withstand crop disease, even if the crop is not suitable for consumption.

There are some schools with old buildings, most of which have been built by the local people. However, the teachers do not get proper salary, the schools are open and the children attend the school every morning.

Opium has done a great deal of damaged to the society. About 50% of the population are opium addicts. The addicts range from small children to the elderly. Almost all of the addicts’ income is spent on opium which is bought from other areas of Badakhshan.

G. Recommendations:

It is very essential that development activities be carried out in the region. The main sectors to be developed are agriculture, education, and communication. For long term development it is necessary to provide vocational training facilities for young people. In Sheghnan, where there are a large number of educated yet unemployed men and women, vocational training would be a great help and if marketing facilities were provided it would have a great impact on the economy.

There are problems in every village of the districts. Most of problems if solved would bring changes in living situation the local community. The detailed information about the villages is contained in Annex 1.

This article was posted at the Tajikistan Update by David Straub ( April 26, 1999